A friendly reminder from America's peanut farmers

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Um, for whatever my what?

(Click on the picture for a larger version.)

That picture was taken on a NYC subway car by Aaron Davies. Could it be that America's peanut farmers have outsourced their sign creation to China?


  1. Michael C said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 10:06 am

    Since the first line is cut short I'm not sure, but if it finishes as I imagine — "…when you could conquer it" — the "conquest" line doesn't sound so odd. Maybe a bit heroic…

  2. John said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 10:46 am

    I'm not sure what Mark sees as the problem here. If it's grammar, it's an o.k. elliptical sentence: peanuts are a good source of protein for whatever your conquest [might be]. If he thinks the problem is the word "conquest", I would admit it's a bit clunky, but not wrong if you take it with the first statement in the sign: why just get through the day when you could conquer. Maybe, I'm missing something.

  3. Chris said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 10:59 am

    The full head reads:
    Why get through your day when you could conquer it?

  4. Mark Liberman said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 11:09 am

    The use of the word "conquest" in this context seems unexpected, not only to me but to everyone else writing text indexed by Google.

    Nowhere on the web does a sentence starting "My conquest today is __" or "My conquest today will be __" appear. Nor does Google find any results for the simple three-word sequence "Whatever your conquest".

    Substitute a noun like "goal" and there are hits a-plenty.

    The headline "why just get through the day when you could conquer it?" helps prime the noun, but it's still an unusual usage. So if "My conquest today will be X– I'd better eat some peanuts" doesn't seem a little surprising to you, John, I think you're reading the wrong blog.

    On your way out, please apply to the customer relations department for a refund of double your subscription fee, and have a great day.

    [Update — I apologize for that last bit of crankiness. I was in a rush and annoyed at someone else, in an entirely different context, and it leaked into my response to John. I shouldn't have let that happen. It was inappropriate and undeserved.]

  5. Nik Berry said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 11:15 am

    Peanut farmers have been out of favour with Republicans ever since Jimmy Carter's presidency, so I suppose they're just trying to get in with the Bush administration.

  6. Andrew Carnie said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 11:24 am

    The sign sounds like perfectly normal English to me.

  7. GAC said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 11:45 am

    Hmm … Could it be that the slogan was written by a non-native speaker and the editor couldn't find a way to fix it? When checking work for Cantonese speakers, I often find strange or unidiomatic usage that I can't really think of how to fix.

    Of course, it would seem rather strange for an ad company to hire a non-native speaker — or at least to hire them without having a partner to check over their slogans, given the fact that the whole industry is based on communication. But I suppose stranger things have happened.

  8. nat said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 12:23 pm

    I dunno, that sounds acceptable to me. At worst I might describe it as slightly cavalier.

    Is there some better noun for something that you conquer?

  9. Gary said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 12:32 pm

    If I put the major stress on the "ever", I don't find the sentence strange at all.

    If I use even stress on ever and conquest, the sentence sounds very strange.

  10. Adrian Bailey said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

    The problem with "conquest" is that it's used to describe a completed action rather than an action itself, and in this case it could be taken to refer to a person or thing, rather than to an event.

    Otherwise, the construction is sound and the message is gettable. And in the world of advertising its ghitlessness is a plus.

  11. Josh Millard said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 2:56 pm

    It's funny, I read the sign and immediately understood your complaint, except that I was wrong about what your complaint was.

    What bothered me is not "conquest" there; I find it unobjectionable even if using 'conquest' like that is a bit unusual — any number of nonce WHY VERB1 WHEN YOU COULD VERB2 … WHATEVER YOUR NOUN2 constructions would probably read just fine to me in that sense.

    The thing that I found jarring was that particular elliptical (?) construction, the "for whatever your conquest" tail. I don't have trouble understanding it, but it feels just absolutely agrammatical to me, and I'm having trouble pinning down why. (Swapping in e.g. "goal" doesn't improve it for me, to be clear.)

    If I had a magic wand, I'd rewrite the second line of ad copy like this:

    "Peanuts are a good source of protein — whatever your conquest."

    Or a comma instead of the dash, perhaps.

  12. Aaron Davies said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

    @Josh, a comma or dash was definitely my first thought on how to repair the sentence–the question of whether conquest is the proper noun to use at the end of it didn't occur to me until later.

  13. Dave Kathman said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 4:42 pm

    The sentence sounds OK to me, maybe mildly awkward if anything. It never would have occurred to me that the word "conquest" was the problem here.

  14. John said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 4:46 pm

    Mark sez, "John, I think you’re reading the wrong blog. On your way out, please apply to the customer relations department for a refund of double your subscription fee."

    A little harsh response for my observation. FU. I don't have to be treated like that. You are hereby deleted from my morning reading.

  15. Constance said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 6:03 pm

    Don't be silly. They're attempting to be funny. It's a kind of humor that has an exaggerated form in place of a common word. It ends up sounding absurdly amusing.
    It also makes total sense because I assume the last word in the first line is "conquer."

  16. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 6:32 pm

    When I think about the meaning of this sentence, it's decidedly odd. I think that the problem is, as Adrian pointed out, that "conquest" is a result, not a goal. Maybe "whatever item you are attempting to conquer." However, I'll also note that I didn't notice anything odd about that sentence before I read the blog and thought about it for a while. Semantically it makes sense to me: in this case "conquest" = "something one is trying to conquer," which, while certainly not any kind of dictionary definition, is something my brain can make sense of.

  17. Ellen K. said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

    A bit of a misquote there, John.

  18. Kris Rhodes said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 9:05 pm

    From a friendly, dedicated reader:

    Mark's comment to John was entirely inappropriate.

    My comment in this post is only slightly less so.

    And maybe we shouldn't have turned comments on after all.


  19. Oscar said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 9:07 pm

    The sentence, including the use of 'conquest', sounds fine to me. I suppose that could be due to the recent prevalence of such quirky advertising lines on trams and trains here in Melbourne, although I'd generally expect to see such a phrase in an ad for Red Bull rather than for peanuts.

  20. Sili said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 10:13 pm

    Oh dear. I can't blame you should you decide to close comments again …

    I (as a non-native) agree that the "for" is the oddest bit.

  21. peanut gallery said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 12:38 am

    Aren't things like misspellings and wonky syntax/word choice a deliberate choice on the part of advertisers, to catch attention?

  22. Daniel said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 12:44 am

    I actually think it sounds clunky, but not wrong. After all, something you conquer can be referred to as your conquest; conquest doesn't have to refer only to the act of conquering. Perhaps the most immediately obvious example of this is the way some men talk about women (or the way some women talk about men, come to that, or the way some… etc).

    It's also likely, I think, that they wanted to echo the "conquer" from the headline without repeating it. So they started off working with the (mostly) unobjectionable "for whatever you conquer" and reworked it into a noun form.

  23. Ryen said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 12:44 am

    I think it would be fine with "quest" instead of "conquest." In my opinion it's still kind of a strange mental image (I'm not usually questing for things or conquering them in my daily life) but it sounds a lot less weird.

    But "conquest" aside that's a very strange-looking ad.

  24. Lucien said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 12:51 am

    Perhaps interference from "quest" is involved? "Whatever your quest" is something of a bundled expression, and you do get a fair number of hits for things like "in my conquest for", which sound ungrammatical to me but would be fine if it were "quest" instead.

  25. john riemann soong said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 2:58 am

    "The thing that I found jarring was that particular elliptical (?) construction, the “for whatever your conquest” tail. I don’t have trouble understanding it, but it feels just absolutely agrammatical to me, and I’m having trouble pinning down why. (Swapping in e.g. “goal” doesn’t improve it for me, to be clear.)"

    Is it sentence position?

    Having the ellipsis in the beginning of a sentence seems to be often OK. Perhaps after it has inundated the general population for a while, it's easier to overlook what the ellipsis originally stood for (though at this stage it's potentially hard to forget). The general phrase "whatever [your noun]" still has the same connotations that can now act like a single phrase unit that now can act like an adverbial.

  26. john riemann soong said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 3:21 am

    Whoops, seeing it is already an adverbial, (I shouldn't post at 3 am), I meant to say it's seems to be an expletive that now acts like a noun phrase because of association/reanalysis.

    "For whatever," after all, seems to be a legitimate phrase. "You can use your work study for whatever," works, but not "You can use your work study — whatever."

    Furthermore, the elliptical phrase carries more weight than a fully-expanded phrase (the ad does convey a sense of youthful arrogance, and the syntax may make more sense if we consider who the ad is aimed at). Perhaps when people wish to make the phrase more specific (whatever only among objects X), the association is strong enough to avoid re-expanding the ellipsis, while still treating "whatever" as a valid determiner.

  27. Kassy said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 10:06 am

    Well if, according to Dr. Liberman's ghits, the construction "whatever your goal" is at the very least accepted if not necessarily grammatical, then maybe the problem is in the sense? To me it seems that placing a noun after "for" implies that the peanuts are fuelling the noun in question, and it is rather difficult to see a conquest munching on nuts. In that case it also makes sense that Josh Millard's substitution of a dash removes the ambiguity, since it implies the connection between peanut and conqest without leaving a grammatical link. I may be wrong.

  28. Josh Millard said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 1:31 pm

    Ah! Kassy, I think you're on to something; the ambiguity of for's possible role in the construction might be part of what's causing me pain. I'm still having trouble working out for myself what is specifically a problem, though, and I'm not convinced it isn't just a bizarre personal hangup of some sort.

    Another rewrite that gives me no trouble:

    "Peanuts are a good source of protein, no matter what your conquest."

    But another rewrite, running more explicitly with your thoughts on what "for" is doing the work on:

    "Peanuts are a good source of protein for you, whatever your conquest."

    Which makes the idea that it is you, and not your conquest/quest/goal/whatever-it-may-be, that is as you say being fueled. That same idea seems to be reasonably present in the original copy when you think about it (because of course it is the human, and not their vocation, that is using the protein), and yet this explicit version reads fine to me.

  29. Joe Yates said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

    I stumbled across these posts when I was researching the expression "friendly reminder". I was looking it up because for me it has always carried the connotation of a threat, suggesting that the next reminder might not be friendly. Seeing it used so liberally often strikes me as funny and rarely appropriate. Does anyone else have that impression of "friendly reminder"?

  30. Nora said,

    April 20, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

    @ Daniel: conquest doesn't have to refer only to the act of conquering. Perhaps the most immediately obvious example of this is the way some men talk about women

    @ Kassy: To me it seems that placing a noun after "for" implies that the peanuts are fuelling the noun in question

    As soon as I read the ad, I understood it to say "eating protein will make you a better lover". When there's a niggling wrongness about an ad, it's usually about sex. Eat peanuts for the benefit of your "conquest", whatever kind, nudge nudge, wink wink.

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